Several miles out of Penzance on the St Just road, the landscape reveals how Cornwall must have looked thousands of years ago. A vast expanse of rugged moorland and disused tin mines, scrub and golden gorse, weatherbeaten cattle. Hardly a house in sight. You can almost feel how old this land is, and how many stories it has to tell.
In this remote area of outstanding natural beauty, Andy Holliday, 56, and his wife Faith, 63, live in their campervan, Victor, and manage the Sennen Cove campsite, a job not even considered by many.
“It’s like caring for a big family,” says Faith. “It’s great to see people having a good time. What’s nice is that we get a lot of people who come back year after year. They’re like old friends now.”
Andy and Faith are versatile, love the outdoors and are adept at dealing with problems. “We both like the variety of meeting people,” says Faith. “We go around tying people’s tents down when they try and blow off in a gale.”
Their work involves a 42 hour week, opening the gates of the site at 7am and closing them at 11pm. They also run a shop on site but have assistants who share their work load and enable them to have time off.
“People think that this job is like a glorified summer holiday, but there’s a lot of physical work and we do all the facility cleaning and make sure everything’s spick and span,” says Faith.
This job isn’t for everyone. “You work very hard but if you didn’t like it you wouldn’t do it,” says Andy. “We’re in our sixth season and if you like the outdoor life it’s great.”
Faith agrees. “From the site you can see Longships, the Isles of Scilly and Land’s End. It’s fabulous. I love trundling up and down on our little red tractor with the wind blowing through my hair and the view is just wonderful. I used to get hayfever symptoms but I don’t now because the air’s so clear.”
Andy and Faith met in 1983 on a blind date organised by Faith’s sister and married the following year. They settled in Wiltshire where Andy, who had been in the RAF, worked for several telecommunications companies while Faith was a freelance journalist working for BBC radio in Wiltshire, Oxford and Bristol.
She loved her job but Andy wanted to do something different and they both liked the idea of a challenge. “We’d always camped, so we started off with a little campervan as it was a great way of seeing places,” says Faith. “We loved being able to get up and go. We looked at buying a campsite in the Westcountry but it was too expensive so we applied to work with the Camping and Caravanning Club. You start off as an assistant, so we did that and got promoted.”
The couple worked on various sites before coming to Cornwall. “We started in Veryan, then we were asked if we’d move to Sennen. We said if we could get Victor in we’d run it,” says Andy.
They bought Victor when they were still living in Wiltshire because it was practical. “We had an ordinary 21 foot camper but we needed something bigger and longer so we blew our savings and got him,” says Faith. “That way we could live in him for the summer season each year.” At 33 foot long, Victor is a handsome beast, but his size can cause problems. “You can’t go to the shops with him, so we use our bicycles or the little Jimny car.”
The site is open from late April until early October, and attracts a mix of people. “There is a big influx of families in July and August,” Faith says. “But early and late season we get walkers of all ages and there’s a nice walk through fields to the beach where you can take a dog. We also get a lot of Germans and Dutch people - everyone comes to see Land’s End and some come for a day and spend the week.”
Despite what some say about the Cornish being insular, Andy and Faith have found the locals in St Just very friendly. “In the town people know who you are and stop and chat and I get all the gossip!” says Faith. St Just is an old mining town that now consists of a butcher, several art galleries, a greengrocer, post office and several pubs. “There are no high street shops here but a sense of time gone by.” Faith grins. “That’s why I love it. The butcher supplies me with meat for the camp shop and we use the post office as a bank. They’re all so nice.”
Andy and Faith love the area so much they have bought a bungalow on the outskirts of St Just which is in need of huge renovations. “The house is a long term project,” says Faith. “We fell in love with the location and we had to have somewhere big enough for Victor in the drive.”
And while this project will keep them busy for years to come, they have plans for the future. “Under current law we’ll be retired at 65,” says Faith. “Long term we want to go back to touring round Europe which is what we used to do.” The couple have several grandchildren and would like to see more of them. The only change they would have to make is Victor. “We’d have to downsize,” she says sadly. “He’s great for living on site but too big for travelling.”
For the moment, they are more than happy with Victor on their windy spot in West Penwith. “I love the sheer rugged beauty of this area,” says Faith. “It’s bracing, the people are lovely and it’s a different world. Nowhere else in the country compares with it.”
Camping and Caravanning Club
Booking number 0845 1307633
Sennen Cove campsite 01736 871588
Cornwall Today July 2008